Transgender people can no longer obtain a driver’s license that reflects their gender identity under a new policy that treats “misrepresenting one’s gender, understood as sex, on a driver license” as fraud punishable by civil and criminal penalties plus cancellation, suspension, or revocation of the license.
A memorandum to county tax collectors dated Jan. 26 from Robert Kynoch, deputy executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, outlines the end of an old, more lenient, policy allowing licenses reflecting gender identity as “not supported by statutory authority.”
Under state law, “the department can issue a replacement license only when a license or permit is lost or stolen, or when there is a subsequent change in the licensee’s name, address, or restrictions,” the memo reads.
“[T]he term ‘gender’ … does not refer to a person’s internal sense of his or her gender role or identification, but has historically and commonly been understood as a synonym for ‘sex,’ which is determined by innate and immutable biological and genetic characteristics,” the memo reads.
“Additionally, a driver license is an identification document and, as such, serves a critical role in assisting public and private entities in correctly establishing the identity of a person presenting the license. Permitting an individual to alter his or her license to reflect an internal sense of gender role or identity, which is neither immutable nor objectively verifiable, undermines the purpose of an identification record and can frustrate the state’s ability to enforce its laws,” it continues.
The policy appears to allow for name changes, but not a “gender marker.”
Molly Best, communications director for the department, said in an email that upon being hired by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet in January 2023, director Dave Kerner “tasked senior department leadership with ensuring our policies, procedures, and technical guidance/advisories were consistent with both statutory law and the department’s inherent authority.”
Best clarified that “the recission pertains solely to replacement license requests.”
The policy shift came as the Legislature is debating a proposal that would codify the same restriction plus require health insurers who cover gender transitioning care to provide detransitioning care as well, meaning therapy meant to reverse the process. They’d also have to sell policies that don’t cover transitioning plus so-called conversion therapy treating gender dysphoria as a mental illness.
Additional anti-LGBTQ legislation enacted in recent years includes the Parental Choice in Education (“Don’t Say Gay”) law, which forbids mention of sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools; attempts to restrict gender transition medical treatments; restrict access to public bathrooms; a ban on use of pronouns that don’t conform to one’s sex at birth; and exclusion of transgender women and girls from team sports. Many of these have been tied up in court.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has supported or even led these efforts, personally speaking about transgender people in insulting terms.
“This bill is rooted in a dangerous ideology that denies transgender people do or should exist. It is part of a blatant attempt to oust transgender Floridians + their families from the state, making them political refugees. We’re ready to fight,” Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director for Equality Florida, said on X of the pending bill.
“Florida Republicans’ obsession with trans people has to stop,” Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, said in a written statement Tuesday.
“Instead of addressing our raging property insurance crisis or out-of-control rent hikes, the GOP continues to pursue blatantly transphobic policies to serve their made-up culture wars. Erasing and criminalizing trans people is absolutely disgusting and can’t be allowed to stand,” she said.
“We’ve seen state agencies continually weaponized under Ron DeSantis, and this rule change at DHSMV serves the same purpose as the rest — allowing right-wing extremists to get the wildly unpopular policies they want without having to go on the record as voting for them,” Fried continued.
“The State of Florida should not sanction hate, violence, or cruelty,” Nathan Bruemmer, president of the LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus, added in a written statement.
“Transgender Floridians face significant consequences from policies preventing access to accurate identification documents. Being forced to live, work, and contribute in society without accurate, updated identification will have immediate impacts on a community already experiencing harassment, violence, and discrimination at higher rates. Our government agencies must remember that their responsibility is to serve Floridians — not the failed agenda of a power-hungry governor who is out of touch with the people of Florida.”
State House Democrat Anna Eskamani also issued a statement.
“This is another gross example of how every state agency has been weaponized to attack trans people. Instead of addressing the property insurance crisis this is what our state is doing. I am embarrassed for our state and will continue to fight for equality and a Florida where every person has the freedom to be healthy, prosperous, and safe,” she said.
Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, said the organization is “working with our coalition partners, our grassroots volunteers and our legal groups to figure out what options are available to fight back.”
She added in a written statement:
“This cruel policy threatens transgender Floridians with civil and criminal penalties and blocks them from obtaining the critical government-issued identification necessary to continue their daily lives.
“Transgender people have always existed in every culture on every continent and always will. In Florida, tens of thousands of people have legally updated their gender marker on their driver’s license or ID. They carefully followed the rules to ensure their identification accurately reflects who they are, and they trusted this process.
“Now, an abrupt policy reversal has thrown their lives into chaos. The cruelty of this kind of government overreach and intrusion should alarm every Floridian. These reckless and hateful policies are intended to make the transgender community feel unsafe and unwelcome in Florida and to bully them out of public life entirely.”
–Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix